Walmart Invests Further in Canadian Operations with Opening of State-of-the-Art West Coast Distribution Centre: Interview

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Walmart Canada has opened in Surrey, BC, what the retail giant describes as its most advanced grocery distribution centre, a state-of-the-art facility with leading-edge technology features and a focus on sustainability.

The 300,000-square-foot, $175-million facility is part of Walmart Canada’s $3.5 billion investment to generate significant growth and speed up the flow of products through the company’s supply chain across Canada.

Horacio Barbeito

It is the company’s first distribution centre in British Columbia. It has 17 across Canada.

“We’re incredibly proud of our new sustainability-focused and technology-enabled distribution centre in Surrey. Facilities like this one are an investment in the community, our associates and customers and allow our suppliers to get their products into the hands of Canadians across the country even faster,” said Horacio Barbeito, President and CEO, Walmart Canada, in a statement. 

“We continue to strengthen our world-class supply chain to ensure Canadians have access to the products they need in a way that’s fast, efficient and minimizes our impact on the environment so that they can live better.”

Walmart Canada distribution centre in Surrey, B.C. (Image: Walmart Canada)

John Bayliss, Executive Vice President, Chief Transformation Officer, Walmart Canada, said Surrey is the most technologically-advanced facility for Walmart in Canada and is also the future hub for its electric fleet.

John Bayliss

“This is only the start for what Canadians can expect from Walmart: we’re transforming how we enable our supply chain and associates with leading-edge technologies and innovations.

“The reason for getting into the Lower Mainland first and foremost is really getting closer to the customers in British Columbia. We’ve been supplying grocery and frozen dairy into British Columbia out of Calgary. And you can imagine, that supply line the number of kilometres on the road, getting into Lower Mainland, getting into British Columbia, is really important for speed and also having availability where it counts in the major centres in BC. That was the real driving force behind this program. 

“One of the challenges historically in British Columbia is the availability of land and also the cost of land. This is where technology has unlocked that equation for us finally where by building up we’ve been able to use a smaller footprint. So the site’s 300,000 square feet. A traditional DC of this class would be closer to the half a million square foot mark. And I think we’re on about 30 acres of land, give or take a few acres. We’d need to double that if we’re building the conventional way. So technology here has really unlocked DC for us and that’s why now.”

MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay, South Surrey, Minister Bruce Ralston, John Bayliss, EVP, Transformation Officer, Walmart Canada, Mayor of Surrey Doug McCallum, MLA Garry Begg, Jason Evans, VP, International Realty & Supply Chain, Walmart.

Bayliss said the Surrey Grocery Distribution Centre will employ more than 250 people once fully operational and will provide ambient (pantry items), fresh and frozen grocery goods to 45 Walmart stores in British Columbia. 

He added that distribution through the facility will reduce the company’s long-haul trips from Alberta and directly reduce its carbon footprint, supporting Walmart’s journey to becoming a regenerative company.

“We are just incredibly proud of the building because it is the most technologically-advanced site that we’ve created in Walmart international and more certainly of any of our distribution centres here in Canada,” said Bayliss.

Walmart listed the following key features of the new distribution centre:

  • Capable of processing 150,000 order picks per day that will be delivered to 45 Walmart stores across British Columbia;
  • A future hub for Walmart’s electric fleet, including semi trucks and a fully-electric yard truck fleet;
  • Will employ more than 250 people once fully operational and created more than 300 construction and engineering jobs during the building phase;
  • Built vertically, optimizing the land use with racking up to 66 feet;
  • Large windows throughout the facility promote natural light in the perimeter; and 
  • Outdoor park and picnic area provides an opportunity for associates and community members to enjoy nature directly outside of the facility.
Walmart Canada distribution centre in Surrey, B.C. (Image: Walmart Canada)
Walmart Canada distribution centre in Surrey, B.C. (Image: Walmart Canada)

Walmart said key sustainability features include:

  • LED lighting and intelligent controls, which can reduce energy consumption by 70 per cent;
  • Efficient refrigeration systems using environmentally preferable CFC free carbon dioxide (CO2);
  • HVAC system designed to reclaim heat rejected from the refrigeration system and leverage it in radiant under floor heating;
  • On track to becoming a zero-waste facility;
  • Special fans to maintain temperature throughout the facility;
  • Natural filtration systems for water to protect the local waterways and fish hatchery in the vicinity; 
  • Recycled content in building materials, including recycled glass countertops in the lunchroom; and
  • 18,000 new plants have been included on-site.

“This modern facility was built vertically, using about half of the land mass that would be required for a traditional equivalent facility, and directly reducing its overall carbon footprint. This is made possible by including cutting-edge technology from WITRON. Incorporating this technology makes it possible to complete as many as 150,000 order picks per day, improving the efficiency and speed of distribution while requiring less physical effort from associates,” said the company.

Bayliss said WITRON is helping Walmart drive great efficiencies, great production and really helps the people employed at the distribution centre serve the stores better.

“Also, it’s a sustainable site. We’ve designed this with the aim of having this be ultimately a zero waste facility and so there’s features like the LED lighting, we’re using efficient refrigeration systems . . . We’ve got a natural filtration system for water that helps the surrounding ecosystem,” he said.

Walmart Canada distribution centre in Surrey, B.C. (Image: Walmart Canada)
Jason Evans, VP, International Realty & Supply Chain, Walmart, John Bayliss, EVP, Transformation Officer, Walmart Canada, Karl Hoegen, CEO of WITRON, North America, Patricio Dallan, SVP, Supply Chain, Walmart Canada

“An interesting thing is that the building incorporates recycled content . . . We’ve designed it in a way with an eye to sustainability because ultimately we have a goal to be a much more regenerative company.”

When asked if there could be more distribution centres in BC in the future, Bayliss said: “If we’re looking at our future network, BC is a rapidly growing market for us. We’re certainly going to keep our eye on it. We are spending a lot of time now investing in our stores in British Columbia which is part of our $3.5 billion investment (in Canada). We have a number of stores in British Columbia that we’re upgrading right now and included in the upgrades is renovation to help their omni fulfillment capabilities. So using those stores as distribution hubs as well.”

Walmart has been in British Columbia for 28  years and has 47 stores and the distribution centre, employing 12,000 people. In 2021, Walmart invested more than $16 million in store upgrades in British Columbia.

The retailer has more than 400 stores in Canada and more than 100,000 employees.

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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